27 December 2013

Evidence of Things Unseen

The last post I did about not ‘doing’ Santa with my daughter (read it here) got a lot of comments (mostly on Facebook).  They were interesting comments from both sides of the subject.  Several comments talked of the kindness and generosity that Santa can embody rather than just being the creepy guy watching everyone and one doling out pressies, especially when looking at the life of the real St. Nicholas.  Another said “The difference between Santa and Jesus (religious faith in general) is that hopefully you’re seeing evidence of your beliefs every day.”  I liked this the best.  It’s so true.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Faith in Jesus is different because there is evidence; true evidence, not planted Elves on shelves.  And it is something I didn’t account for in my last post.  Here is an account of evidence in my life:

When I was 10 years old my family drove halfway across the country for a church conference called Warrensburg in Missouri.  It was a gathering of New Frontiers churches, a family of churches we were a part of.  I remember having lots of fun (okay, the road trip was mostly fun) and meeting with God in a very personal way.  I also experienced my first tornado warning and the cafeteria had soft-serve ice cream that you could do yourself.

A few years later I wanted to attend again, mostly because I was now a teen and could go to the way-cool teen meetings.  But my family wasn’t going.  Dilemma.  I started saving my money in the hopes that my parents would let me go without them, chaperoned by someone from our church who would be going.  It was a tall order: saving for a plane ticket, conference fee and spending money.  I probably needed about $300.  I saved Christmas money, birthday money, babysitting money, and I baked cookies to sell at my dad’s work.  (The entrepreneur spirit started early.)  All the money I collected was saved in a small tin bank, tucked in my underwear drawer.  I never counted it.  I just hoped and saved and begged my parents to let me go.

Then one day they called me over.  There were several people from our church going and one couple agreed to be my chaperones.  Dad had looked at plane tickets and found one for $210.50.  If I could come up with that money, my parents would pitch in and pay for the conference registration fee.

Nervously I went upstairs to count my bank.  Would I have that much?  What if I wasn’t even close?  Cookie baking only grossed $5 a day.  After you subtract money for supplies it didn’t leave me with much.
I slowly counted the money.
What?  I better count that again.
I had exactly enough.

The conference itself did not disappoint.  The fun of being somewhere alone, without the rest of my family was a perk; but the encounter with God was the highlight.  Growing up I was an introverted bookworm.  Still am if left to myself.  I didn’t like talking to people, mostly because I thought I would say dumb things, and I walked around looking at the ground most of the time.

After one of the evening meetings I was kneeling, face to the ground when I heard an audible voice: Look up.  So I did, and I saw lots of feet.  I put my face back down.  Look up.
Oh my daughter, look up;
You are the King’s child.
You need not be ashamed.
You were naked and I clothed you.
You are the King’s daughter.  A princess.
Look up! Lift up your face!

God spoke to me.  God spoke to me?  Me?  Personally?  You mean that thing about God knowing each of us intimately and caring for us deeply is true?  Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
It took time for me to come out of my shell.  To be a bookworm who can look strangers in the eye talk to them.  To learn the art of initiating conversation with questions.  To feel that what I had to say was important because I had thought of it.  Sometimes I’m still learning.

I am a daughter of the King of kings.  I don’t always act like it.  At times I struggle to believe it.  But that doesn’t make it any less true.

Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory!

Psalm 24:7-10

11 December 2013

The Year I Got A Letter From Santa

I’ve never believed in Santa.  Not even for a moment.  Growing up we knew the stories, watched The Santa Clause in the theater with my Grandpa, read The Night Before Christmas, but I never believed there was a Santa.  It was just a story. 

The Christmas I was 7, we were at my grandparents house with aunts and uncles and cousins.  My cousins are younger than my siblings and I and on Christmas Eve we set out cookies, milk and carrots for the reindeer (for the first time in my life).  We read The Night Before Christmas and went to bed.  The next morning, before the chaos of 15 people opening presents all at once, there was the pause to see if Santa had eaten the cookies.  He had, and written a note back to the cousins which was suspiciously in my mom’s handwriting.  I loudly proclaimed this only to be shushed by my mom; your cousins still believe in Santa Claus she whispered in my ear.  Still believe in Santa?  You mean people actually believe in Santa?  Like, that he’s real?  Why?

Then there was the year I got a letter from Santa.  I didn’t mean to get a letter from Santa.  I meant to give my sister my Christmas list in a funny, creative way.  So I wrote it out as a letter to Santa, addressed the envelope to “The First Door On The Left Up The Stairs”, put it in the mailbox and told mom to have my sister get the mail.  My one mistake was not realizing the mail hadn’t come yet.  The mailman took my letter.  What did they think of the address?    Well, at one point the United States Postal Services didn’t throw out all those letters to Santa.  (All the ones collected since taking them to the courthouse in New York at least.)  In Dover, NH the letters to Santa were read and replied to, at least mine was.  About a week later I received a letter from Santa, telling me Mrs. Claus was doing fine and that he was getting the reindeer ready for the big night.  Also that he would try to get the things on my list and to be good.

I’ve been thinking about this letter recently, seeing as it is Christmas time.  This year my husband and I had to decide: are we doing Santa?  Cora is two and is getting so excited about Christmas.  I told someone we probably weren't going to do Santa.  Her response?  How will she have faith in anything?  I was shocked.  I pray daily that she will put her faith in Jesus Christ.  If I tell her Santa is real and the tooth fairy is real and Jesus is real, then someday she realizes Santa isn’t real and the tooth fairy isn’t real - how will that affect her faith in Jesus?

Needless to say, we have decided to not do Santa.  I point him out in books, she will learn the stories.  Someday we will watch Miracle on 34th Street.  But I don’t need her to believe Santa is the one bringing her the presents.  I want her to know the gifts are from her aunts and uncles, her grandparents, her great grandparents, her cousins, people who love her.  I read somewhere that telling children to be good so that Santa will bring you presents makes the presents conditional, they have to earn them, they have to deserve them.  But that is contrary to the very essence of gift giving.  We don’t deserve gifts.  We don’t earn them.  They wouldn’t be gifts then.  They would be reimbursement.
I give to my daughter because I love her.  I love her because she is my daughter.  Her actions don’t change that.  Giving gifts at Christmas is a symbol of the ultimate Gift Giver.  He gave us His Son not because we deserved it or earned it but because He loves us.  He loves us because we are His children.  We can never deserve what God has given to us.

02 December 2013

Creating Montessori at Home

As a Montessori credentialed stay at home mom, it is hard to not bring in Montessori philosophy into our day to day lives.  I decided to go a step further and create some of the materials that are in a Montessori classroom to have in our home.  Many of the materials are too expensive for me to buy, and since we are sending Cora to ChildLight Montessori School next year, there really isn't a point to invest in them.  So I am doing homemade versions.  There are so many resources out there for homeschool Montessori (I follow this blog on Facebook) and many of the materials in a Montessori classroom are easily made with common items. 

Although I think Cora is ready for a few sandpaper letters, I started with homemade "metal" insets.  Metal insets are a series of ten shapes that include the (usually) pink frame and blue inset.  The shapes are: square, circle, triangle, oval, ellipse, rectangle, trapezoid, pentagon, curvilinear triangle, and quatrefoil (the one that looks like a flower).
An artsy shot
In the classroom, the child chooses one frame or inset at a time.  There is special paper cut to the exact size of the frame, 5 1/2 inches square.  There are so many lessons that are a part of the metal insets.  The child's sense of order is refined because the shape (frame or inset) is placed on a special tray with the paper and a certain number of colored pencils, in my old classroom it was a limit of three.  Once the child is done with a certain shape they must return it to the shelf before choosing another inset.  This material can be used to help the child learn and remember shapes by making a shapes book.  It is in the Language area of the classroom because it is a pre-writing activity.  The child is encouraged to form the shapes in a counter clockwise motion - as you form your letters in handwriting.

For my project, I saved enough cereal boxes to create 10 frames and cut out 5 1/2 inch squares.   Then I found this website with templates for cutting out the shapes.  I was glad I didn't have to free-hand it. 
I used the examples in my Language Curriculum Album to make sure the templates were the right size.
After drawing the shapes on my squares I used a craft knife to cut out the shapes.  I realized as I was cutting the cereal box may not hold up for very long, depending on how much they are used.  If I wanted them to last longer I might use a thin plastic, a quilting store usually has thin plastic for template making that would work perfectly.
Overall I am pleased with how they came out.  For Cora, they will be stencils to use during art time.

20 November 2013

The “m” word

No one talks about it.  It is hidden grief.  Why?

If I haven’t told you, it’s not because I haven’t wanted to.  I’ve probably been in conversation with you.  The ‘m’ word on the tip of my tongue.  But how do you interject that into a conversation?  Where is the segue into “Hey, I had a miscarriage”?  What a conversation downer.  And then, how does the conversation move on from it?  I’ve probably tried to tell you, but the ‘m’ word just doesn’t come out very easily.

That, and the fact that in my stage of life if I say I have news, everyone automatically thinks I’m pregnant.  So I could preface it with, I have bad news, unfortunate news, sad news - still brings the conversation down. 

If I say it in an off-hand way you might think I’m over the pain and grief.  I’m not.  It hurts.  Still.
If I say it with lots of emotion and tears it might freak you out.  You wouldn’t know what to say because it’s not your experience.  What do you say?  I haven’t figured it out either.

So I am saying it the best way I can, the way I prefer, in writing.

At 6 1/2 weeks I saw the heartbeat.
At 6 1/2 weeks the heartbeat stopped.

You are gone too soon.  Before you had time to even be.  You were barely here and now you are not.
Emptiness where you should have been.
Sadness were there should be joy.
Something was wrong little one.  Perhaps things didn’t form correctly.  You will be missed little one.

You were my baby.  You are my baby.  You brought me joy.  I love you.  Good-bye.

July 16, 2013 - one on earth and one in heaven

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’”
C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

This is me saying my heart is broken but I am healing.

The Lord is near the broken hearted and saves the crushed spirit.  Psalm 34:18

23 October 2013

Giving Concentration Room to Grow

Despite being a 'stay-at-home' mom we spend surprisingly few days completely at home.  Usually we run errands or see friends, and there is our weekly trip to the library.  But today we stayed home.  All day.  It was a nice break from running around, but I also noticed how differently Cora's played today than on days when a trip to the store breaks up the morning.

Her favorite question these days is: "What can I do Mommy?"  She will ask it as soon as I get her down from breakfast.  Often it is when I'm making a meal and I'll try to direct her to play by herself.

Today, I barely heard it.  After getting dressed said she wanted to do buttons.  (One of her new fascinations.)  So we pulled out her sweater with big buttons.  She stood with the sweater resting on a chair and carefully pushed the three buttons through the buttonholes.  She proudly showed me what she had done, then promptly unbuttoned the sweater and started again.  Nearly twenty minutes later she was still buttoning.  Eventually she lost interest and the sweater sat on the couch until the evening when she again stood with the sweater and carefully buttoned and unbuttoned it many times over.

It reminded me of the time we dressed and undressed her baby doll 6 or 7 times in a row.  We carefully lined up each of the eight snaps and after the last one was snapped she pulled them all apart and asked to do it again.  And when Cora was finished, Baby still didn't have her jammies on.

Why?  Why do children do that?  Repetition.  Dr. Montessori said the hand teaches the mind.  All the ideas and philosophy floating around in my head becomes reality when I watch my daughter.  Repetition and concentration.  How do you build your child's concentration?  Don't interrupt them.  I'm not saying the child rules the roost.  But if they are engaged in an activity (especially by themselves) and it is not harming anyone or anything, there is no emergency and you aren't trying to get out the door to a doctors appointment - leave them alone.

When I was a newbie teacher I would walk around the classroom touching the children's shoulders, 'checking in', asking how they were doing.  I thought I was being a great teacher.  Finally I realized I was interrupting them.  The child who is working hard to count beads to find out how much 8 + 5 equals will be thrown off by a touch on the shoulder.  He will forget where he was, perhaps have to start counting all over again and could become frustrated.

How will a child learn to concentrate if we (the adult, parent or teacher in their life) don't allow them time to work uninterrupted?  Even by the video camera to capture the cuteness.

There is another confession: I have interrupted Cora because I wanted to save the adorable.  It wasn't on purpose.  I try to be discreet, but as soon as she realizes I'm there and sees the camera her concentration is broken.

Today was a good reminder.
To step back, to just watch, just listen as she 'reads' to her Baby, to let her be.

15 October 2013

The Curious Thing About Curious George

I took a break from blogging.  Grad classes have lots of reading and writing, which are hard to do when it’s not naptime or bedtime.  I decided not to return to teaching this fall so that I can be home full time with my adorable daughter, and yet I’m still busy.  I’m determined to write more though; and so I find myself back at the blog.  Here we go...

I read an interesting blog post (read it here) this week about teaching reading through the classics.  It was good.  It described how important it is to read to your children above their level so their vocabulary is expanded.  I totally agree and credit Cora’s large vocabulary to the massive (for a two year old) amount of books we read every day.

One of the book recommendations caught my eye, especially because it is one we have out of the library right now.  Curious George by H. A. Rey.  The original.  The first one written.  Unabridged.  Do you know the story?  It’s about a curious little monkey who lives with the man with the yellow hat, right?  Hmm, sort of.  See the book opens on George eating a banana in his natural habitat, the jungle, then the man with the yellow hat enters with rifle slung over his shoulder and decides George is cute and that he wants him.  The man with the yellow hat tricks George and into the bag he goes.  On the boat ride to the big ship the book even mentions that George was sad.
Then there’s the pipe smoking.  The man with the yellow hat smokes a pipe.  The sailors smoke pipes.  George smokes a pipe!  That’s right, Curious George smokes a pipe after having dinner complete with wine (though I suppose the glass could have been the man with the yellow hat’s, but even then...).

Move on to the telephone scene.  Why is the man with the yellow hat calling the zoo?  Is he selling George?  Does he go around collecting animals from remote parts of the world to sell them to the highest bidder?  You never know.  But George is ever curious and plays with the phone, accidentally calling the fire department.  When they realize there is no fire the fireman go berserk.  A fat fireman and a thin fireman catch George (I guess it’s teaching kids opposites).  So kids, what do you think the punishment is for accidentally calling the fire department?  A stern talking to?  A slap on the hand?  A fine?  Nope.  Prison.  George is thrown in prison.  But it’s okay, because he escapes when the big and heavy prison guard tips over the bench.  The rest of the book includes a misadventure with balloons, but nothing too bad, until George is reunited with his ‘friend’ the man with the yellow hat who takes him off to the zoo.

My how times have changed.  First copyrighted in 1941 the Curious George franchise has changed a lot over the years.  It is more politically correct, not pointing out the girth of fireman or portraying the man with the yellow hat as an imperialist.  The books are shorter too.  Older children’s books like this one are much longer and wordier than their modern counterparts.  (This book for example might be split into three books: Curious George is Abducted, Curious George goes to Prison and Curious George is Scared of Heights.)  In all seriousness, I don’t think the trend of shorter, simpler books helps our children, and I think it can hurt them.  Longer, wordier books aren’t always appropriate, but they are needed to expand the child’s vocabulary and to grow his concentration.  If only short books are read to the child, how will he learn to sit and listen to longer books?

I am not against this book.  It’s weird and strange, but I will not stop reading it to my child, nor will I abridge or modify as I am reading.  At this point, she is not asking questions about what is going on.  Someday she might, and then I hope we can talk about how times have changed.

18 January 2013

When Plans Don't Work

As soon as the website loaded I heard Cora whimpering.  She's supposed to be asleep for another 45 minutes at least.  I had it all planned.  I was finally going to sit down to right a blog post.  A blog post that was long overdue with the 'ugly' Christmas sweater pic I promised (read the post here).  I had it all planned to take a cute photo of me 'adjusting' Pete's fake tie with my back to the camera so the picture on the back would show.  That didn't happen.  I had other blog posts planned about the stockings I finally made for Cora and Pete (still one to come for myself) and Christmas traditions.  Obviously those didn't happen, and now it is January 18th.  Too late for Christmas tradition posts, too late for New Year's resolution posts (good thing I didn't resolve to post more).

Christmas was wonderful and full of time with family.  But that left little time for things like finishing my Montessori Math Album (my self-given due date of January 1st has come and gone), and even less time for things like blog posts.

Unfortunately that's how I've been feeling lately, too late or running late, or about to be late or that I'm trying to play catch up.  It's a vicious circle that I'm trying to break.  It's hard to have grace for myself.  But I know that my Math Album is almost done and will eventually be done despite a toddler and a new weekend grad class this semester.

Here are some of the things I did back in December:

Our sweaters.  Unfortunately we didn't win.

The front of my sweater.  The sequins on the pockets were already on the sweater.

Cora's stocking on Christmas Eve

His grace is sufficient for me.